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The Celtic god Sucellus with his characteristic hammer and olla. Musee National d'Archeology.
This statue of Sucellus is the earliest known likeness of the god (ca. 1st century AD). It is from a Roman home in France and was found in a household shrine (lararium). Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.

In Gallo-Roman religion, Sucellus or Sucellos (/sˈkɛləs/) was a god shown carrying a large mallet (or hammer) and an olla (or barrel). Originally a Celtic god, his cult flourished not only among Gallo-Romans, but also to some extent among the neighbouring peoples of Raetia and Britain. He has been associated with agriculture and wine, particularly in the territory of the Aedui.[1]


Relief of Nantosuelta and Sucellus from Sarrebourg. Now in the Museums of Metz.

He is usually portrayed as a middle-aged bearded man wearing a wolf-skin, with a long-handled hammer, or perhaps a beer barrel suspended from a pole. His companion Nantosuelta is sometimes depicted alongside him. When together, they are accompanied by symbols associated with prosperity and domesticity.

In a well-known relief from Sarrebourg, near Metz, Nantosuelta, wearing a long gown, is standing to the left. In her left hand she holds a small house-shaped object with two circular holes and a peaked roof – perhaps a dovecote – on a long pole. Her right hand holds a patera which she is tipping onto a cylindrical altar. To the right Sucellus stands, bearded, in a tunic with a cloak over his right shoulder. He holds his mallet in his right hand and an olla in his left. Above the figures is a dedicatory inscription and below them in very low relief is a raven. This sculpture was dated by Reinach, from the form of the letters, to the end of the first century or start of the second century.[2]


At least eleven inscriptions to Sucellus are known,[3] mostly from Gaul. One (RIB II, 3/2422.21) is from Eboracum (modern York) in Britain.

In an inscription from Augusta Rauricorum (modern Augst), Sucellus is identified with Silvanus:[4]

In honor(em) /
d(omus) d(ivinae) deo Su/
cello Silv(ano) /
Spart(us) l(ocus) d(atus) d(ecreto) d(ecurionum)

The syncretism of Sucellus with Silvanus can also be seen in artwork from Narbonensis.[5]

Roles and Duties[edit]

In Italy, Silvanus was said to protect forests and fields. He presided over the boundaries of properties, together with a host of local silvani, three for each property. These were the silvanus of the home, the silvanus of the fields, and the silvanus of the boundaries.[6] Silvanus also takes care of flocks, guaranteeing their fertility and protecting them from wolves, which is why he often wears the skin of a wolf.[7] When moving north into Gaul, Silvanus was syncretically merged with Sucellus to form the conflated Sucellus-Silvanus. It was Sucellus who carried the mallet and bowl. It has been suggested that the mallet was for construction and the erection of fence-posts (establishing boundaries), but this is far from certain.[8][9] Green claims that Sucellus may also relate to a chthonic deity, especially in maintain boundaries between the living and dead.[10]


Bronze statue of Sucellus from Vienne.

In Gaulish, the root cellos can be interpreted as 'striker', derived from Proto-Indo-European *-kel-do-s whence also come Latin per-cellere ('striker'), Greek klao ('to break') and Lithuanian kálti ('to hammer, to forge').[11] The prefix su- means 'good' or 'well' and is found in many Gaulish personal names.[12] Sucellus is therefore commonly translated as 'the good striker.'

An alternate etymology is offered by Celticist Blanca María Prósper, who posits a derivative of the Proto-Indo-European root *kel- ‘to protect’, i.e. *su-kel-mó(n) "having a good protection" or *su-kel-mṇ-, an agentive formation meaning "protecting well, providing good protection", with a thematic derivative built on the oblique stem, *su-kel-mn-o- (and subsequent simplification and assimilation of the sonorant cluster and a secondary full grade of the root). Prósper suggests the name would then be comparable to the Indic personal name Suśarman-, found in Hindu mythology.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Miranda Green (2003). Symbol and Image in Celtic Religious Art. Routledge. p. 83.
  2. ^ Reinach (1922), pp. 217–232.
  3. ^ Jufer & Luginbühl (2001), p. 63.
  4. ^ AE 1926, 00040
  5. ^ Duval (1993), p. 78.
  6. ^ Hyginus. "De limitibus constituendi, preface". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. ^ Virgil, Æneid VIII.600-1; Nonnus II.324; Cato the Elder, De re rusticâ 83; Tibullus, I.v.27.
  8. ^ Smith, William. "A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. (1867)". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  9. ^ "Deo Sucello Silvano".[permanent dead link]
  10. ^ Aldhouse-Green, Miranda J. (2011). The gods of the Celts. Stroud, Gloucestershire: The History Press. ISBN 978-0-7524-6811-2. OCLC 797966528.
  11. ^ Delamarre (2003), p. 113.
  12. ^ Delamarre (2003), pp. 283–284.
  13. ^ Prósper, Blanca María (2015). "Celtic and Non-Celtic Divinities from Ancient Hispania: Power, Daylight, Fertility, Water Spirits and What They Can Tell Us about Indo-European Morphology". The Journal of Indo-European Studies. 43 (1 & 2): 35–36.


  • Delamarre, Xavier (2003). Dictionnaire de la Langue Gauloise (2nd ed.). Paris: Éditions Errance. ISBN 2-87772-237-6.
  • Deyts, Simone, ed. (1998). À la rencontre des Dieux gaulois, un défi à César. Paris: Réunion des Musées Nationaux. ISBN 2-7118-3851-X.
  • Duval, Paul-Marie (1993) [1957]. Les dieux de la Gaule. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France / Éditions Payot.
  • Jufer, Nicole; Luginbühl, Thierry (2001). Répertoire des dieux gaulois. Paris: Éditions Errance. ISBN 2-87772-200-7.
  • Reinach, Salomon (1922). Cultes, mythes et religions. Paris E. Leroux.

Further reading[edit]